UC Berkeley study finds California progressive policies help job growth, economy

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A study conducted by UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education associate Ian Perry found that California’s progressive public policies over a period of six years have not negatively affected state employment rates or the economy.

The report, published to the UC Berkeley Labor Center’s website Tuesday, examines some of the 51 policy measures enacted by the state of California between 2011 and 2016 addressing workers’ rights, environmental issues, safety net programs, taxation, infrastructure and housing. The idea for the study came out of Perry’s master’s degree thesis at the UC Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy, which he worked on for about 10 months.

Averages taken from data on issues such as wage growth and employment growth of 19 Republican-controlled states were compared to averages taken from California’s data. According to the report, total employment has risen by 16.9 percent on average in California, compared to 12.2 percent in Republican states.

According to Perry, a reasonable critique of the study could argue that Republican states are very different from California, and therefore the two are difficult to compare. To try to combat this, Perry said, he used a synthetic control method, which assesses state averages similar to California’s in order to analyze how California’s economy could have grown without using progressive policies.

The synthetic model shows that total employment grew 13 percent on average over the six-year period, according to the report, several percentage points lower than California’s actual employment.

Ken Jacobs, chair of the UC Berkeley Labor Center, assisted Perry in developing the ideas for Perry’s research and gave him feedback along the way. Jacobs said this topic is especially timely, given the current ongoing debate in the government about how to improve the economy.

“I think Ian did a very good job, given the available evidence, available data,” Jacobs said. “(The study) does present very strong evidence that (progressive policies) did not negatively affect employment and jobs.”

According to Jacobs, some have argued that the way to improve the economy is through large tax cuts for the wealthy and reducing standards for labor conditions. If this theory model was true, Jacobs said, California’s economic growth should have been slowed down as a result of its progressive policies.

But if anything, Jacobs said, California has done better than states that have not implemented progressive policies.

Additionally, Perry said, the fears of negative side effects or unintended consequences expressed by those against California’s economic policies have not come to fruition.

Because Perry’s report shows evidence that California’s economic policies work, Perry said, his hope is that this report will create more opportunities for similar progressive public policies to be implemented. His research, Perry said, shows that California can be a model for the rest of the United States.

“This study shows you can do progressive economic policy and not have any negative effects on economy or employment for people, contrary to what conservatives think,Perry said. “We should be proud of our record over the past six years.”

Contact Ella Colbert at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @colbert_ella.